KET Behind the Scenes
The key to any successful television production is pre-production. For the Electronic Field Trip to a Coal Mine, many hours were spent before the actual production date surveying the site, coordinating technical requirements, and making sure everyone was ready for a live broadcast.
Our initial scouting trip took place in July of 1995, when KET surveyed various mine sites, looked at the operations, and determined the best way to produce a live television program that would give students a firsthand look at the coal industry in Kentucky. Two additional scouting trips were made (in October and November), each involving the production and technical people who would be working on the production. On the scouting trips, we were looking for answers to questions like these:
- Where can we park our television remote truck so it's near the opening of the mine shaft?
- Does that location provide adequate electrical power to operate the truck?
- Can we get telephone lines to our truck?
- How many feet is it from our truck down the mine shaft and to the remote site underground?
- Where can we put all the camera and audio cables so they won't interfere with the mining operations?
- What time of day would be best to do our broadcast, so as not to interfere with the mining operations?
- Is there enough electrical power underground to run our television lights and monitors?
- Can we transmit a satellite signal from the broadcast site?
- How do we make sure that the miners who will be on camera can hear the students' questions when they're called in?
Since we would be broadcasting out of a working mine, it was very important to get permission from the mining company, and we took great pains not to interfere with their mining operations. For weeks before the broadcast, we were in constant contact with the managers at our location, Dotiki Mine in Webster County. We also had to have all of our production personnel safety-trained for working at a mine site: They took a class on safety precautions, equipment, and regulations. All of our crew members also had to wear safety clothing -- steel-toed boots and hard hats for the ones working up on the surface, plus safety glasses and self-rescuers (breathing apparatus) for those working down below.
While we were doing our scouting, we were also shooting the video for the other segments of the field trip. Our camera crew went to a surface mine, a reclaimed site, power plants, and railyards to provide an overall look at the coal industry. One day, KET cameraman David Brinkley even went up in a helicopter and videotaped the blast you see in the surface-mining segment. Another day, host Mary Henson took a tour of the giant dragline and was actually in the machine when it walked on its two feet. Overall, hours and hours of videotape were shot to record the footage needed for the edited segments that created the Electronic Field Trip.
The day before the broadcast, our crew and television truck arrived at the mine site at noon and spent the next seven hours laying all the cable to the broadcast site, which was 275 feet below the ground. The next morning, the lights, cameras, and microphones were set up and tested, and we did rehearsals to make sure that everything was up and working. In all, we used almost two miles of audio and video cable to get to the broadcast site -- where Mary Henson interviewed the guests and took questions from students all over Kentucky.
When you think about the technology involved in such a program, it's pretty amazing. If you called in a question during the live telecast last December 5 (1995), your phone call went first to the KET studios in Lexington. Then it was routed to our television remote truck outside the Dotiki Mine in Webster County. And from there it went down the mine shaft by way of audio line all the way into tiny earpieces worn by each person. All of that in under a second! Technology has certainly come a long way, and in the coming months, we hope to take it even further -- by providing other electronic field trips to the students of Kentucky. Stay tuned!
Craig Cornwell, Producer